Monday, January 8, 2007

Land and Goa: The politics of Exclusion

There is much that can and needs to be said with regard to the cry of “Goa for Goans”. I had earlier expressed the view that we should be wary of dismissing this cry as one made by common folk, on the instigation of a disgruntled elite, and manipulated by unscrupulous politicians. I would like to reiterate this point. The cry to privilege the local in Goa is not, in this day and age, a uniquely Goan experience. On the contrary this cry seems to resound in many parts of the globe, be it Europe in the xenophobic cries of Haider of Austria and Le Pen of France, in the ‘tribal’ wars of Africa, or even the Kannada movement in the metropolis of Bangalore.

If it is not just a phenomenon of Goa, then there must be something to this cry and it would be best if we addressed ourselves to it now, rather than later. Perhaps we would be better placed to understand what is happening in Goa if we looked at the situation in Bangalore. A few months ago, as Goa was peacefully commemorating Christ’s Last Supper, Bangalore was mourning the loss of one of its greatest film-stars, Dr. Raj Kumar. However while Bangalore mourned there was a deathly silence through the city, as it waited in bated breath for violence to break out. And break out it did when persons who gathered to pay respects to the actor broke out into violent rioting. In the process a good amount of property was damaged and a few policemen lost their lives.

The violence was not entirely unexpected. Raj Kumar had been used by the Karnataka/Bangalore for Kannadigas for a long time, as various groups claimed the city of Bangalore as the exclusive space for Kannadigas and Kannada. The English press has had a field day displaying this as some sort of a bizarre claim and entirely without cause. However, this is not entirely true. These demands for Kannada have emerged out of a number of reasons. Primary among them is the manner in which the English speaking corporate world has sought to refashion Bangalore into its exclusive playground, and the impact of big money that has recently been pouring into Bangalore. What this has resulted in is a feeling of powerlessness among Kannadigas in Bangalore, a sense of frustration at the inability to gain access to the kinds of consumption engaged in by the members of this corporate world. And furthermore a slowly building rage at constantly being portrayed as dull, stupid, lacking initiative and good for nothing.

From my point of view I see this as similar to what is happening to and in Goa. Goa is being converted slowly but surely, not into a place where people live and try to make ends meet, but a huge property market for people from all over the world. A good number of these people can enjoy ridiculously comfortable lives while living in Goa, or use it only as a holiday home. This is not to say that they are not entitled to comfortable lives or their holiday homes. However when all of this adds up, it only results in a situation where the local (be it ethnic Goan or hard working outsider) feels deprived and frustrated at their lot. Finally one has the social relations between this propertied class and the local. How often have you heard Goans being called lazy, lacking initiative and good for nothing? Or perhaps you have heard the more positive side of this trio, happy-go-lucky, laid back and jovial. Which ever way you look at it, they both stem from a definite way of looking at the Goan. Not to mention that this propertied class looks on the locals not as neighbours and members of the community one belongs to, but more as a source of domestic employment.

What Goa and Bangalore have in common is that they are places where the forces of globalization are having a field day, where there is nothing that cannot be bought. A good amount of this is happening in both places through the cooperation of local brokers- be they politicians, local businesspersons or compradors. What is resulting is a good amount of frustration and powerlessness with the situation that one does not seem to be able to change, and seeing an old world, which was predictable and known slip by. This is not to say that globalization is bad and must be done away with. On the contrary, globalization seems here to stay, the question is how do we deal with this growing rage? For surely if we do not address it, it will consume us all. The Raj Kumar riots in Bangalore have shown us as much.

The solution is not simple, nor one for me to suggest, but one for us to collectively (and it is obvious that we don’t seem to be operating as a collective) arrive at. It would help if we moved in this direction rather than dismissing these signals as manipulations of stupid common folk by wily politicians, or the hypocrisy of a society that has made its money through migration. Once again it should be stressed, the issue is not about Goans and non-Goans, the issue is about the politics of exclusion and deprivation.

(published in the Gomantak Times, 2006)

No comments: